Monthly Archives: June 2011

Women in Art: Martha Rosler

Usually when I see an artist (particularly student artists) working with collage I can’t quite shake off the feeling that they’re being lazy.

I’m sure this stems from far too many camp collaging experiences where we just smothered the covers of our journals with chopped up magazines and modge podge, and I also have the nagging feeling that it’s because many of my peers actually are being lazy (I’ve seen far too many half-baked collages thrown together hours before a critique). Collage always struck me as something that may turn out looking wonderful but often lacking in meaning and depth. Appropriating the work of others as the only means of expression in your artwork feels too similar to so many Tumblrs with collage acting as the art world’s reblogging feature.

So when I see Martha Rosler’s work I’m always pleasantly surprised. It goes against all of my preconceived notions about collage (which I’m working on. Sorry to all of those out there who love collage, I’m sure your work is wonderful!). Her work has an emotional value that it might not have in any other medium. By using pre made images Rosler is manipulating the work of popular society into a form of social activism. For example, in her most well known series, Bringing the War Home: House Beautiful, Rosler appropriates images found in homemaking women’s magazines of the period and juxtaposes them with violent imagery from the Vietnam war.

"Beauty Rest" (1967-72)

We see happy American families enjoying suburban bliss as bloodshed and chaos occur in the background or foreground. Even as violence occurs directly in front of the subject they smile with happy naivety. 

"Cleaning the Drapes" (1967-72)

"First Lady (Pat Nixon)" (1967-72)

Interestingly, Rosler has reprised this body of work, applying the same method of juxtaposition to images from current American women and lifestyle magazines and the war in Iraq. Some critics feel that this shows a lack of imagination and innovation on Rosler’s part, but others (including myself) find it interesting that Rosler is examining today’s events and today’s media imagery with the same eye as in the late 60’s and early 7o’s. The similarities between the two series of images is uncanny. The two bodies of work seem to meld together, and barring the advances in technology could be part of the same set of work.

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Women in Art: Mary Heilmann

There are some artists I have to love for their work, and then there are artists like Mary Heilmann, who I mainly love for something else. With Heilmann, she has an incredibly magnetic personality. She has this urge to be in the spotlight and has always chosen the most dramatic options available to her. 

Mary Heilmann

 My 2D design class watched an episode of Art21 featuring both Mary Heilmann and Jeff Koons. While we had all heard of Koons’ work none of us had heard of Heilmann. Upon viewing her paintings we didn’t think they were anything special. Us students are impressed by things that are flashy, exciting, maybe a little bit taboo (This always reminds me of something I heard from one of my teachers at the Cranbrook summer camp: “If you can’t paint well, paint red. If you can’t paint red, paint big. And if you can’t paint big, paint shiny”. If anyone knows who my teacher was quoting I would appreciate you letting me know!). And Heilmann’s work? Heilmann’s work was small. It was colorful, but not in a way we found to be special. And her composition and subject choice at first seemed lacking.

However, as we continued on through the episode we started to feel two things. 

  1. Jeff Koons should really stop trying to excuse the fact that he has workers who physically make the pieces he designs. We knew and accepted this from the start, and the defensiveness just make him appear to feel guilty.
  2. Mary Heilmann may be one of the most entertaining Art21 artists we had ever watched. Her amazing personality extended to her work, which became interesting, groundbreaking. It was subversive and surprising in a way that was less overt than Koons’ sculptures. 

"Go Ask Alice" (2006)

Heilmann originally studied ceramics, and we can see the influence of ceramics upon work  throughout her career. While many artists treat a canvas as merely a two dimensional object, flat surfaces with sides only acting as extra, rather than a part of the work, Heilmann treats her canvases as three dimensional pieces. She’s quoted as saying,
First they’re objects and then they’re pictures of something.
We can see this in her use of nontraditional canvas shapes and thus her incorporation of the sides of canvases and the walls into her work. We also see this in her use of other three dimensional objects, such as brightly painted chairs to slide around and view her work in.

The viewer would sit in these chairs and view Heilmann's paintings. They gave the audience the ability to roll around the gallery.

The thing that my class loved so much about Heilmann was her desire to be contrary. To go against what was popular at the time (in this case, nontraditional materials in sculpture, ceramics, etc) and embrace what was considered a bit passe (the seemingly less and less important field of painting). Despite defying some of her ceramics teacher’s requests and often making work that they did not like, Heilmann won awards and made a number of useful connections at this time. These connections are part of the reason she left the field of ceramics and entered the field of painting. As she entered New York in 1968 her goal was still to excel at nontraditional materials and “play with the boys”, the boys being renowned artists such as Bruce Nauman, Richard Serra, and Donald Judd. However, the art world was still very much a boys only club, and Heilmann found it difficult to gain acceptance into this group of sculptors. Heilmann, of course, didn’t give up. She instead defiantly refocused her efforts on a field many sculptors of the 60’s looked down upon, painting. In fact, Heilmann said of this shift,

I wanted to be on the edge. Original. And that meant going against the status quo.

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Going to the Chicago Slutwalk

The Chicago Slutwalk today had a great turnout! Obviously not the 7,000 people who responded “attending” to the event (Anyone who’s sent party invites via facebook knows that the count is incredibly unreliable), but I’ve heard someone say around 1,000, maybe even more. 

It’s not only impressive that so many attended this protest, but that there was such a great energy. As we walked around the area there were cheers, honking, chanting, and just general badassery. People who weren’t participating in the walk would shout their approval or just give thumbs up signs. One of the greatest things about walks or protests is seeing people outside of the event respond to the message. It’s inspiring to know that so many people truly care about ending our culture’s habit of blaming the victims of rape and assault.

There were a lot of people on the way to Slutwalk who, upon seeing the posters my friend and I were carrying, asked us what the walk was about. After giving an explanation of the origin of the walk and how it was a protest against victim blaming, slut shaming, and overall rape culture, I heard a few stories from people agreeing with the walk’s message. I talked to one man whose wife volunteers twice weekly at her local YWCA, one who sadly wondered why some people don’t understand that no means no, and a few others on the train who, clad in halter tops and daisy dukes (with boxers peeking out), were going to the walk as well. It was a great start to the day! And it just got better as it went on.

My friend Jordan and I holding our signs. We had a sleepover and made them the night before! The other sides of our signs say (On mine): "Stop victim blaming" and (On her's): "'Asking for it' = Verbal Consent, =/= Visual Cues"

A close up of my sign, because it took a long time to make. The word clothing is made up of tiny articles of clothing.

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!Women Art Revolution

Through intimate interviews, art, and rarely seen archival film and video footage,!Women Art Revolution reveals how the Feminist Art Movement fused free speech and politics into an art that radically transformed the art and culture of our times.

I am dying to see this film. The subject of gender and how it related to artwork is fascinating (I may be biased) and this film seems to be impeccably shot and presented. Director Lynn Hershman Leeson has been collecting these interviews and other footage over the past forty years. Imagine that, forty years of work on the same piece to have it all culminating now! 

It opened yesterday in the NYC IFC center (although it has been screened earlier this year at art centers and film festivals) and is running there until the 8th with each opening accompanied by prominent feminist activists, artists, performers, you name it. As far as I can tell there are no screenings scheduled for the Chicago area. This being a fact which makes me very, very depressed. However, you may still have a chance! Here’s a link to !W.A.R.’s schedule. Check it out and go if you have the opportunity! Better yet, invite me to go with you!

Here’s a link to !W.A.R.’s site.

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